Wild swimming has soared in popularity over the past year, as nature has provided some much needed solace while we've navigated through shifting restrictions. Though you’d be forgiven for not wanting to take a dip in the midst of a crisp London winter, with summer on the horizon there truly is no better time to try your hand at a spot of outdoor swimming.
Whether you’re looking for a bucolic swimming lake nearby or an open water spot in the heart of the city, there’s something for all in and around London. Early morning dips are advised for a blissful stillness that can only be achieved at that time of day, while post-work paddles make for the ultimate summertime unwinding.
Explaining its multiple health and psychological benefits, author of Wild Swimming Daniel Start tells Country Living: “a one off dunk creates intense vasodilation, pumping out muscle lactates, and bringing fresh blood to the extremities”, while more regular practise develops cold adaptation, a process that not only serves to “reduce your body’s sensation of coldness”, but moreover “is clinically proven to boost mode, libido and the immune system”.
However, beyond these physical benefits, “People explain that wild swimming is a very good way to de-stress, and acts like a form of mindfulness or meditation, bringing them into the moment, focusing their mind on the physical sensations, and taking them away from their worries and concerns. In some ways it is the perfect digital detox.”
Reap these benefits today by inching yourself in with our pick of the best wild swimming London has to offer, as well as scenic spots near the capital.
Wild swimming in London
1 - London Royal Docks, East London
Chances are, a sprawling city vista isn't what you think of when you imagine a dip in the wild. Undoubtedly the most ‘city’ open water swimming spot of the bunch, London Royal Docks promises an experience unlike any other. A striking location with unmatched cityscape views, spaces are allocated for casual and competitive swimming alike. So whether you’re training for a triathlon or simply fancy a relaxed dip, there’s a place for everyone here. Friendly staff will ensure you feel comfortable and well looked after, with water being very clean and tested regularly. When you do visit, make sure to turn up ready to go as you’ll only be able to change on the bank.
Opening times vary. £12 annual membership fee, then £8 per session.
2 - Hampstead Heath Ponds, North London
The Heath ponds are synonymous with wild swimming, having delighted crowds for countless years. With your pick of the Hampstead mixed ponds as well as the single-sex Kenwood ladies’ ponds and the Highgate men’s ponds, each has something different to offer. Enjoy a dip then continue your day amidst one of London’s best loved and most sprawling parks, having a picnic on a hidden hill or with a crêpe in hand from the nearby high street.
Free flow entry between 7.00-10.30 and 17.00-20.30, otherwise pre-book here at £4.05 for an adult and £2.45 for a concession ticket.
3 - Beckenham Place Park, South London
This Georgian swimming lake in Beckenham Place Park has technically been around for well over 200 years, though after being filled in for a period it was only in 2019 that it was restored to its former glory. A delightful south London spot perfect for finding a moment of peace, you’ll need to book in your hour slot here, with spaces available each day of the week bar Tuesday and Thursday.
Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7.00-15.00 and at 8.00-15.00 on weekends. Ticket prices vary.
4 - West Reservoir, East London
This outdoor swimming spot in Hackney is set in a peaceful location that has the best of both worlds - an urban surrounding and clean water that encourages wildlife. While you’ll need to grapple with their app to book in here, it’s definitely worth figuring out once so you can return to enjoy the stillness of this charming setting. For those who appreciate other water sports, there’s also kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding on offer, making for an active day out on the water.
Opening hours vary each week, while tickets for over 16s are charged at £10 for non-members and £5 for concessions and members.
5 - Serpentine Lido, North London
Located in the heart of Hyde Park, Serpentine Lido is one of the most iconic swimming lakes in London, with a rope of buoys being all that separates the swimming area from the rest of the lake, complete with feathered friends and pedalos. If you’re looking for a halfway house between a lido and the wild, this will prove an ideal spot for you. For those who don’t already have membership this will be one you need to keep an eye on as the Serpentine Swimming Club are currently not accepting new members.
Open to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club between 6.00-9.00.
Wild swimming near London
6 - Divers Cove, Godstone, Surrey
Known for its inviting turquoise water, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Divers Cove for a more exotic location. Though set against the stunning backdrop of a nature reserve, grounds here are excellently maintained, making for a delightful day out. One for more confident swimmers, all visitors are expected to be able to complete a minimum of 450m without stopping. With saunas and hot tubs on site, Divers Cove is a real treat for the senses.
Open for bookings 17.00-19.00, costing £24 for a year’s membership and £6 per session, or £9 per go for non-members.
7 - River Cam, Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge
Charming Cambridge offers wild swimming at its best, with roughly 2.5 miles of the River Cam available to swimmers. Winding through the abundant and verdant Grantchester Meadows, this is the prime place for a slow summer’s day dip. A quintessentially English setting fringed by lush greenery and blooms, there are fewer places more picturesque. With this particular stretch free from boats, you’ll only have to share the river with the occasional punt, canoe or kayak.
No specified hours or need to book - simply turn up!
8 - River Colne, Ricksmansworth, Hertfordshire
If you’re seeking a rustic retreat without the long journey time, River Colne is a safe bet. One of the few non-London swim spots accessible via the tube, while you might not be far from civilisation you’ll certainly feel a million miles away. Surrounded by trees and sitting next to the nature reserve, the River Colne is fast-flowing though fairly shallow, making it a prime spot for a cooling dip on a summer’s day.
No official site, set hours or need to book.
9 - Frensham Great Pond, Frensham, Surrey
Natural sandy beaches line this shallow pond, with depths that never exceed 1.4 metres. Set amidst an open heathland, this open water swim spot has two bays, with accessible areas marked out. Once you’ve had your fill in the water, this is the perfect place for a picnic, and we would then advise rounding off your day with a walk around one of their well kept pathways. Whether you’re looking to zone out in the scenic setting or have a day out with the kids, there’s something for everyone here. Just be sure to arrive early to avoid disappointment!
Free, though if you’re driving then car park charges start at £1 for an hour and £6 for a full day.
10 - River Thames, Pangbourne Meadows, Reading
The rolling English countryside will always prove a top pick when it comes to wild swimming, and Pangbourne Meadows is no exception. Easily accessible from London, catch the train to Pangbourne station and walk upstream to find an idyllic stretch of river sitting on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. Bathe in clear water beside chalky banks and enjoy uninterrupted views of the countryside. Once you’ve tired of paddling, continue your day with an amble along the Thames path, enjoying views of the historic Mapledurham House along the way.
No specified hours or need to book anything, just choose your day and go!
11 - Merchant Taylors’ Lake, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
While a swimming lake near a school might not sound like the most soothing place for a dip, we assure you it is. Located in Merchant Taylors’ School, this beautiful freshwater lake promises solitude as nature surrounds you, along with clear blue waters. Visitors are given the option of 150, 300, 500 and 750 metre laps at this scenic setting, with 1 kilometre laps occasionally being opened on warmer days.
Open 18.00-20.00 on Mondays and Wednesdays and 7.30-9.30 on Saturdays and Sundays, with tickets costing £8.
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